That Time I Spent an Evening with Eli Wallach …

… well, that is not 100% true. Sure I was there and he was there, but so were about 100 other movie fans and collectors of memorabilia. You are probably wondering the wheres and whys – so gimme a sec, I am getting there …

It was late June 2005 (almost 9 years to the day as a matter of fact), and I stood in line outside Christie’s auction house in Rockerfeller Center, giddy with anticipation about the I was about to attend – a sneak preview of Marlon Brando’s personal effects that were about to hit the block. Sure, in hindsight the idea of gawking at one’s items that were likely never meant for public eyes, is a rather morbid curiosity. But the main attraction for me came a couple of hours later after walking through the labyrinthine halls of the famed establishment. Film director Arthur Penn, Eli Wallach and renowned critic Richard Schickel joined us lucky attendees for a panel discussion where they shared with the audience stories about Brando’s life and their thoughts on the influence his career had on screen acting.

Whenever I attend a discussion like this, I am always in awe of the fact that I am in the presence of people who have first-hand knowledge and tales to tell concerning individuals, ‘idols,’ who are otherwise so distant to me. It was wonderful to not only hear Wallach talk about working with Brando, but this was a moment to reflect on and remind myself of the immense talent that sat before me.

Though not as lauded as many of his contemporaries (Brando, James Dean, Montgomery Clift), Wallach was principally referred to as a “character actor,” having the ability through through the power of his performances, to transform himself into whatever the role required, regardless of medium (film, television or stage). Many of you may not be so intimately acquainted with his body of work (see IMDB), and might find yourselves surprised by his roles in some of Hollywood’s greater films of the middle-late middle part of the last century. When you get a chance, be sure to check out these notable classics:

  • The Good The Bad and the Ugly (w/ Clint Eastwood)
  • How the West Was Won
  • The Misfits (*an ILC personal favorite)
  • The Magnificent Seven
  • Baby Doll (feature film debut)

So when I heard of the news of his passing early yesterday, I recalled fondly that warm summer evening when I had the privilege of being in the company of a great talent.

eli wallach, carol baker, baby doll

Eli Wallach and Carol Baker in Baby Doll (1956)

For a good retrospective read on Wallach, check out my blogging buddy, leopard13’s post:

And check out TCM on Monday, June 30th starting at 9:00AM for an 11-hour marathon of his films.


  1. Great tribute, Iba, Must have been wonderful to have been there that summer evening. Many thanks for this and the linkage. 🙂
    le0pard13 recently posted..My Favorite Films of a Master Character Actor: Eli WallachMy Profile


  1. […] since then, I have been hooked, as evidenced nearly a decade later, when I attended a panel discussion where the likes of Arthur Penn and Eli Wallach discussed Brando’s work and impact on the world. It was certainly a night to […]

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